Jun 20, 2011

Parkinson: pride and prejudice on solar scheme

If the Labor government had wanted to further distinguish its clean energy policy from its predecessor's, then it would have got a fair bit of traction from the choices made in the first round of the $1.5 billion Solar Flagships program.

Surely it wasn’t deliberate! But if the Labor government had wanted to further distinguish its clean energy policy from its predecessor’s, then it would have got a fair bit of traction from the choices made in the first round of the $1.5 billion Solar Flagships program.

The two consortia chosen to lead Australia into the era of large-scale solar energy facilities both contain technologies or business plans that had been forced to emigrate under the Coalition government because of a lack of support and incentive.

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7 thoughts on “Parkinson: pride and prejudice on solar scheme

  1. John Bennetts

    There are more than one reason why Solar Heat & Power, which evolved into Ausra, was unable to reach its full potential in Australia. Not only was this company unable to deliver its early Australian projects on time, but poor quality was an issue throughout its Australian phase. I know… I was there, on site, on two projects.

    The Americans provided much-needed capital and solid management expertise, but I do not know what caused them to sell to the French.

    The reason I am providing this comment is to indicate that SH&P’s departure to USA and beyond was driven by much more than any government decision.

    Besides this, there are several competing technologies for solar thermal steam generation, including parabolic troughs, linear fresnel reflectors (lines of mirrors – eg Ausra and Novatec being two with strong Australian links) and arrays of tracking mirrors targetted onto a high temperature collector plate in a tower. It is too early to say which version of these technologies will dominate future solar thermal installations, but at least Australia’s Solar Flagships projects are stepping beyond demonstrations – these are full sized, productive, real installations. I, for one, welcome them all, regardless of which country the shareholders live in.


  2. Michael James

    “BP Solar closed Australia’s only solar PV manufacturing facilities in 2008, although that had more to do with internal decision-making than local policy.”

    That same facility at Sydney Olympic Park is once again open and manufacturing PV product, under the name Silex Solar.

  3. ggm

    I would love to have somebody help me understand to what extent solar pre-heat on the water going into classic coal-fired power stations could lift efficiency.

    I ask, because with transmission losses at 10%+, and with a huge NIMBY cloud over new line-laying, a big, if not insurmountable problem facing green-field solar of any kind is getting it into the grid.

    If solar can make even a single-digit impact on existing coal fired systems by increasing thermal efficiency, why not do it?

    Reductionist arguments about ‘replace not augment’ beg many questions.


  4. John Bennetts


    An example may suffice.

    Liddell Power Station, in NSW, is a 4 x 500MW power station. It has an existing Ausra/Areva array which provides low temperature steam to one of the boilers.

    There was room for the array to be increased by a factor of about 4 to 6, so scaling up is possible, but only within limits posed by the site, ie the lake and the existing power plant. Other power stations will have differing site constraints and opportunities.

    When finally sorted – it is currently settling in after being commissioned – the existing arrays will be able to deliver 2 or 3 percent of the heat load of a single 500 MW unit, for perhaps 20% of the time, say 1600 hours per year; 20 GWh electrical energy sent out total, per year.

    So, for Liddell, the existing Areva array is roughly equivalent to 20 GWh out of a station’s annual load of 13,ooo GWh – about 1/6th of a percent.

    If enlarged to the limits of the site – about 1%.

    This might not sound like much, but the existing Areva array is capable of saving close to 10,000 tonnes of coal per year. If expanded to the maximum capacity of the site, this could be 60,000 t/y.

    For comparison, each full length train heading to Newcastle carries about 10,000 tonnes of coal. We are talking multiples of trainloads.

    Incidentally, Liddell Power Station is also home to a slightly larger solar array being constructed by Novatec, a German subsidiary of an Australian corporation. Where else in the world can both technologies be seen side by side? Both have elements of FOAK builds, so Liddell’s results can confidently be expected to improve and costs to come down next time around.

    Disclosure: I have worked for Macquarie Generation, which owns Liddell power station and for one of the constructors. I was involved during the design and construction phases of both arrays. Readers will understand that my comments are general only, in response to a general question and that in no way are my words to be taken as representing either corporation.

    Those seeking more detailed information about these projects are advised to contact their spokespersons.

    Finally, “Why not do it?” Every site presents more than just one opportunity for improvement. All are different. Every project involves costs, both capital and operating. Whether or not a project proceeds should be based on the answer to many questions, including “What else could we get for this much money?”

  5. ggm

    Thanks John. great, detailed answer. Blog it up mate!

  6. ggm

    Since I’m on a roll, a second un-related question. neither of the installs Labor announced appear to use the salt thermal storage method. (I looked, I didn’t see them mentioned). -This is well understood technology, so why didn’t it make sense to include thermal mass for load balancing in the deployment?

  7. John Bennetts


    Kogan Creek power station can take the solar generated steam whenever it is available. No point in storage. No need for cost plus losses.

    Salt or other thermal storage can be considered as an add-on. If it isn’t needed, don’t bother with it. Kinda like front brakes on a pushbike.

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